Odes to the Environment
Can Plants Really hear Sound?
The scientific conversation around "music for plants" is ongoing.
Those of you who tuned into the first episode of Haoma TV may recall that Dr. T. C. Singh first brought the idea to the forefront in 1962 when he exposed balsam plants to classical music and recorded the results: an increased growth rate of 20%. He then exposed various crops to raga music over loudspeakers and found they yielded anywhere from 25 – 60% more than the national average in India.
Since then, the scientific community has gone back and forth on whether or not different types of music have any effect on plants. Though some toss it off as pseudo-science, more and more research is coming out in support of Dr. Singh's early work.
For instance, a 2014 study found that sound waves do, in fact, influence plant growth — and may even strengthen plant immune systems. This controlled experiment showed that exposure to sound at different frequencies, sound pressure levels, exposure periods, and distances increased yields in a variety of plants, including sweet pepper, cucumber, tomato, lettuce, spinach, cotton, rice, and wheat.
What is not up for debate is the fact that plants have held a special place in the hearts of songwriters for as long as music has been recorded. With this in mind, we present this guided collection of our favorite songs that were made in honor of our mysterious and ever inspiring
Odes to the Environment
Compiled by Mark "Frosty" McNeill
A Guided Listen
Press play, then scroll down to learn a bit about each track.
Note: You'll need to read to the end in order to experience the super-rare Roger Roger "Rhapsody in Green II: Luxuriance" and Ann Chase's "A Chant for Your Plants (1976)")
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One for flowing through emerald forests of softly whispering bamboo.
In the 1980s, environmental music was a softly booming business in Japan. And though many musicians kept their high-end studios humming by crafting bespoke, atmospheric soundtracks reflecting specific subjects ranging from air conditioners to department stores, the natural world was a favorite focus. Not surprising, considering the cultural heritage of Japanese gardens, which often incorporate subtle sonic components such as slowly dripping ornamental water harps (known as suikinkutsu) into their designs. While this playlist could have easily been filled exclusively with Japanese artists giving nods to nature, Hiroshi Yoshimura rises to the top. The title track from his 1986 album Green is one for flowing through emerald forests of softly whispering bamboo.
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"Symphony for a Spider Plant"
For the accompaniment of leafy houseplants.
In 1976, Mort Garson birthed a craze launched on the coattails of a larger craze. His album, Mother Earth’s Plantasia, produced for Mother Earth Plant Boutique in Los Angeles, was sold to accompany purchases of leafy houseplants. Garson’s influential Moog synthesizer soundtrack was recorded with tones intended to aid plant growth. The concept that music could be as vital to a plant’s health as a proper window-perch and watering was a seed planted into the mainstream pysche by 1973's bestselling book "The Secret Life of Plants," which made such bold claims as the psychic ability of plants and their positive reaction to specific music. Pseudoscience aside, this publication popularized houseplants and sparked a whole canon of songs bent on serenading them. We and our ferns should be forever grateful.
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"The Deadly Nightshade"
For a plant whose aura bridges the darkness and light
Prolific producer Daniel Lanois is known for creating vast sonic vistas. He often does so in service of other bands, so it’s always refreshing when he steps into the lead. Here he coaxes lush, dusky tones from his pedal steel guitar. The swooping, intertwining notes slowly unfurl to sketch a portrait of a plant whose aura bridges the darkness and light. Atropa belladonna or deadly nightshade has historically been used for sinister ends but its healing properties are equally potent. Lanois’ interpretation gives us space to choose the path we desire.
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"Pretty Trees Around the World"
For those who dig trees.
Music history is lopsided with songs about love hard won or woefully lost so it’s refreshing to hear some universal subject matter sidestepping human romantic messes. The First Lady of Children’s Folk Music, Ella Jenkins comes to the rescue offering up a breezy piece cataloging pretty trees. It’s elemental and unflappable in its depth of goodness. If you dig elm, oak, birch, eucalyptus or any of the other verdant trees studding our planet, this jam is for you.
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From the Queen of Flowers
In her stone-cold soul classic from 1970, Minnie Ripperton embodies floral energy for positive universal impact. She transcends ornament to sing the praises of nature’s potential to save humanity. On swoops of orchestrated groove, Ripperton’s voice rises with its epic range to impress her point, to open your nose, mind, and heart to the healing power of petals and organic energy. All hail the queen of flowers!
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Luciano Perrone E Seus Ritmistas Brasileiros
"Sorongo (The Sound Of The Bamboos)"
For the jubilant amplification of vital life-force.
Bamboo is one of the fastest growing plants in the world. Brazilian samba legend Luciano Perrone shows us its peppy rhythmic potential as well. His beats mirror the energetic pace of a bamboo stalk shooting skyward in its rapid trajectory. The Sorongo rhythm was originated by deeply spiritual percussionist Pedro dos Santos and seems to exist in the space between nature and the spirit, a jubilant amplification of vital life-force draped in jungle vines.
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"Trees Against the Sky"
For the simple pleasures found in Nature.
This brief, jaunt through elysian fields is Moondog’s observation of, and by proxy, encouragement to engage with the simple pleasures found in nature. The lyrics in their entirety are a lovely loop that would serve nicely as a mantra and reminder of how lovely our world is in its pure, elemental form:
"Trees against the sky
Fields of plenty
Rivers to the sea
This, and more
Spreads before me"
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"The Plum Blossom"
For tapping into the expansive continuum across time and space.
Lateef’s 1961 Eastern Sounds album arose in the midst of an exotica boom that set living rooms awash with music evoking far off lands, however this perspective really depends on which land you’re sitting in. While these albums strove to paint romanticized portraits of other worlds, they were often slanted caricatures painted by western minds. On Eastern Sounds, multi-instrumentalist Yusef Lateef, brings a depth that comes from his scholarly investment in the musical heritage of the East coupled with his energy as a compassionate, creative musician. This outlook and intention allowed him to tap into the soulful sonic continuum from across the expanse of time and space. The album opener, “Plum Blossom,” features Lateef playing the Chinese xun globular flute to sketch his subject’s aura and transmit the expressive vision to our lucky ears.
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"Rhapsody In Green II: Luxuriance"
For aiding plant growth.
One of the gods of European library music, Roger Roger created countless soundtracks for films, radio, and television. The field of production music is one that relies especially on vibe and the French composer was a master of creating these evocative atmospheres. An early adopter of the Moog synthesizer, he composed stock music that could be applied to just about any mood a human might find themselves in. Here, on a selection from 1978’s De la Musique & des Secrets pour enchanter vos Plantes (Music & Secrets to delight your plants), he provides synthy sounds aimed at aiding plant growth. While the record owes a clear debt to Mort Garson’s 1976 album "Plantasia," it is a lush and lovely piece of work in and of itself. And, hey, after all, our gardens need all the love they can get!
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"A Chant For Your Plants (1976)"
For the quivering cell in your sensitive root tips
While it might prove difficult to categorize this piece of music, I would simply suggest building a glass bio-dome to enshrine this oddity and let natural processes take over. Nature might very well choose to smother the recording to save humanity from itself or it might relish in the hoakiness at hand—an attribute so extreme it almost takes on an unexpected beauty as Ann Chase spews lines like, “A vision of the quest is the quest itself.” These lines are recited over a spare flute and guitar version of Satie's “Gymnopédie no.1” and gush out of her mouth in the most mellow of pre-meditated trances. She seems to have positioned herself as the oracle of all plant-life providing seeds of nonsensical wisdom for every inch of soil. Before her forest spreads to consume us all, I would like to leave you with a few more of Chase's words, “I want to be a quivering cell in your sensitive root tips so I can probe into your well of truth.”